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Promptly at 6 a.m. on New Years Day, Young Choi, landscape architecture senior and rose float production manager, arrived at the Tournament House in Pasadena, California, anticipating the result of the judge’s awards.
Choi and his fellow float workers, from both Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona, had spent the last 10 months designing and building a float to be presented in the 126th annual Rose Parade.
Choi and the rose float team thought there was a good chance their efforts would be recognized with an award. However, as the judges went through the results, Cal Poly went uncalled for award after award.
But finally, when the last award was announced, Cal Poly had its win.
The Cal Poly Rose Float “Soaring Stories” won the Lathrop K. Leishman Trophy for the most beautiful non-commercial float, one of the parade’s most prestigious awards, Choi said.
“We thought we didn’t win anything,” Choi said. “But when they announced that we won the award, I cried.”
For the 53rd time since 1949, Cal Poly has entered the parade as the only student-built float. “Soaring Stories” is the 67th consecutive entry in the annual Pasadena parade, according to a university press release.
Reflecting the parade theme “Inspiring Stories,” students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and their counterparts at Cal Poly Pomona constructed a fairytale castle featuring a mythological griffin springing to life from the pages of a storybook.
The 18-by 55-foot float included other animated features such as a waterfall with recirculating water, a castle’s drawbridge and a fish jumping out of the moat.
The float was also the only California-grown certified float, meaning that 87 percent of the plant material used came from California’s own soil, Choi said.
“It’s good for us to contribute back to California and its economy and to represent Cal Poly SLO and Pomona,” Choid said, “We do have deep roots in agriculture.”
This is the fourth consecutive year the float has earned this distinction, which is bestowed by the California Cut Flower Commission, the press release said.
The road to Pasadena
While Cal Poly walked away with the most beautiful float, the moments leading up to its debut were by no means easy.
The preparation and float construction is a year-long process, starting with the Rose Float Committee’s introduction of next years theme, which is revealed to participants in February, Associated Students, Inc. Public Relations Coordinator Michelle Broom said.
“Once the Rose Parade Committee identifies a theme, Cal Poly solicits and invites everybody to design or draw a float that fits in that theme,” she said.
Submissions are accepted from all who apply — not just students. According to Broom, a community member of San Luis Obispo submitted the soaring griffin.
By March a theme is decided upon through a collective vote by the Rose Float team. April brings an extensive design period during which communication between the two schools is vital, though difficult.
“(The design process) is the hardest part because only half the team is there and every single detail has to be communicated either by phone or Skype,” Choi said.
Throughout the duration of the year, representatives from San Luis Obispo and Pomona take turns alternating travel between the two cities. Each school constructs half of the float until the two halves are brought together in October. A semi truck transports San Luis Obispo’s half of the float at a steady 15 mph on the 101 freeway.
“We travel down to Pomona on Saturdays and sometimes Sunday too to work on it,” Young said. “We leave around 6 a.m. at the latest and come back around 11 p.m. on the same day.”
Up until the week before New Years Eve, the float remains undecorated. Crunch time soon begins as team members add live floral and plants.
“Every square inch must be covered with some type of organic material,” Young said.
The day before the parade is complete chaos.
The float is finally completed at 2:28 p.m. on Dec. 31, just in time for the five-minute judging period each float is subjected.
“That moment is probably the longest time of your life. Everyone is anxious to hear what the judges are saying.”
After the long minutes pass, the team rejoices in a job well done.
“Everyone starts hugging and screaming. The mix of emotion that comes through your head is crazy,” Young said. “You work on that baby for a whole year and it’s done; it looks great and it’s beautiful.”
Once the parade, the judging, the long trips and the months of preparation are over, volunteers spend January taking the float apart.
But float enthusiasts need not miss their creation for long. They must only wait a short 30 days until the next theme is released, and the entire process starts again from scratch.